Last weekend, while idly flipping through a digital copy of the August 1955 edition of Mystic magazine on archive.org when I stumbled across an ad headlined "Prove your psychic powers with a planchette!"
The automatic writing planchette was a bit different from the planchette of a modern Ouija board. While it was often heart-shaped, it was a lot larger than a spirit board planchette, with two casters or ball bearings on the broad side and a hole on the pointed side. You'd put a pencil through the hole and then you put the device on a piece of paper. Everyone would put their hands on it—like they would the planchette of a Ouija board today—and then they asked a question and saw what the planchette wrote. You could also use it solo.
I went through tons of historic newspapers with mail-order ads for planchettes (and even for instructions on how to make planchettes.) And, naturally—because of who I am as a person—I got really obsessed with automatic writing planchettes for a while and I was determined to have one.
Weirdly, though, despite the current popularity of spirit boards, I couldn't find many on the market at the time. On Etsy, a grand total of two vendors sold automatic writing planchettes, which were hand crafted and fairly expensive. (The cheapest I could find was $80, which is pretty good for a handmade item, but also not a super accessible price.)
I bit the bullet and bought one. I used it once, had a fairly unsettling experience, and ever since, it's been gathering dust on a bookshelf, surrounded by philodendrons. I should probably give it another try, especially since I've been experimenting with automatic drawing recently.
Anyway, I could write for a long time about automatic writing planchettes, but I suppose I should just refer you to the podcast episode about them. (I don't know why they fascinate me so much, but they really do.)
I searched archive.org to to find the instructions referenced in the ad, but they sadly don't seem to be archived. However, I did find what appears to be a 3D printable planchette that can be used for ouija boards or automatic writing. (It's an .stl file, at least, though I haven't downloaded it and taken a look.)
I love the modern spin on the DIY planchette. It makes me think of a 1868 ad selling instructions on how to make a planchette for 3 cents (64 cents today):
The new Parlor Mystery. The wonderful little Automaton that answers questions, “tells fortunes,” and can even disclose one’s secret thoughts. Any boy can make it.
Part of the planchette's popularity was how easy it was to make them. (I suppose that the average person was a bit better at woodworking than they are today.)
While researching this post, I searched Etsy again for automatic writing planchettes, and was surprised to find there are a lot more options than there were in 2020, and they're a bit cheaper. (The cheapest one I could find was about $45 .)
While they still don't seem to be mainstream, it seems that automatic writing planchettes might be back in the zeitgeist. I love to see a weird 19th century device like this have a second life.